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Sunday, June 22, 2008



Dr. Lester CN Simon

Whenever I visit Jamaica, I pay close attention to the local radio talk-shows and television programs and I peruse the newspapers to see if anyone has come up with any new plans to tackle the crime industry. I look for clues that can help us in our burgeoning crime industry in Antigua and Barbuda and stop me worrying about my children, grandchild, mother-in-law and dear friends in Jamaica. On a recent visit, I was lucky.

I was lucky not so much because Jamaica has found the solution to crime. I was lucky because in addition to observing progress and scholarly attention to fundamental problems I also noted fundamental mistakes and false assumptions which should point us in the right direction if we acknowledge the errors and institute some startling changes.

Poverty is recorded as one of the root of crime. Wrong. Most poor people do not commit crime and most crimes are not committed by poor people. Most crimes are committed by persons whose wants far exceed their needs. Criminals are greedy people with voracious appetites, first and foremost. Ironically, criminals know that it is greed that motivates them; hence they can propagate their activity by spotting, recruiting and getting support from other greedy persons and some poor people.

One way to head off the potential criminal is to satisfy not just his needs but also some of his want or greed, cognizant of the fact that new wants will pop up as old ones are satisfied. This means accepting that crime will always be with us. But satisfying the current wants will move the criminal activities plaguing us now, away from the current brutalities, to another level that we can plan ahead for and abate more successfully. Initially, this seems like indulging the weaknesses of others but when combined with other aspects of crime fighting, it provides the practical breathing space we need to arrest the current and near-future downward spiral.

Another mistake that is perpetuated in the fight against crime is the one sided concept of zero tolerance. In general terms, this is the concept of allowing the police to inflexibly repress minor offences. The opponents to zero tolerance claim that the decline in crime rates in New York started long before Mayor Rudolf Giuliani, a celebrated proponent of zero tolerance, came to power. They also argue that it destroys important requisites for successful community policing such as police accountability, openness to the public and cooperation between the police and the community.

Regarding areas of Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda, it occurred to me that zero tolerance should be applicable to, and actively embraced by both the police and the community. The community must accept that there are levels of housing, education, health, sanitation and crime that it deems unacceptable and abhorrent. This cannot simply be waved into acceptance. It must be combined with the orchestrated delivery of the needs and wants of the community.

Take housing for example. It only requires a few skilled persons and some experienced as well as willing and easily trained labourers to build a house. Such groups of workers in the community can provide all the houses needed for the community and build community spirit in the process. In the while, attention to sanitation and other tangible and intangible requirements for safe, modern living will fall into place. I recall as a youth helping my carpenter uncle and a labourer build and assemble a set of lounge chairs for the beach at Blue Waters hotel. When the job was done, the semi-literate labourer was roughly rebuked by my uncle for relaxing on one of the lounge chairs amongst the hotel guests on the beach. His arresting excuse was simply that after all the hard work, he was entitled to be “viewing the view” (his exact words), because he wanted to enjoy and admire our work, ensure the lounge chairs could stand up to pressure and rest on the last day, taking a sabbatical, just like the good Lord had done.

Zero tolerance on both sides, and pandering to some of the wants of people, require willpower and money. It is ironic that in our present taxation system, some tax payers are complaining bitterly that no one should be exempted. It does not bother them that spreading the tax net over all workers will mean paying many more tax collectors far too many thousands of dollars to collect far too few pennies. This makes neither mathematical nor common sense and will not harvest the heap of cents for which the objectors clamour. The simple fact that is hard to swallow is that all of us have to pay protection money to fight crime. Payment may not be equal in the quantity of money and yet equal in or balanced by the quality of involvement. Our dues must be public in the form of taxes, private in the individual protection we deploy, and communal in the zero tolerance practiced by the police and by all members of the community.

In Jamaica, I was impressed by an article by Daraine Luton in the Gleaner newspaper reporting on the speech by the opposition senator Basil Waite at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum. Another important article was by Anthony Gomes in the Jamaica Observer. They documented why Jamaica finds it difficult to make and sustain significant inroads into the unacceptable, high levels of crime. They refer to garrison communities. I use the term, geo-criminality. As they noted, once it sets in and festers, societal weapons against the crime industry require setting up alternative accommodations and rebuilding communities in part or in whole, with the attendant infrastructure minus the criminal elements. I say Jamaica has to live up to its literal Arawakan name of the “land of wood and water”, to resettle the communities infested with geo-criminality.

Alternatively, the Jamaican columnists argue, beneficial interventions into the deplorable social conditions in which many people live will have to be put on hold until the environment is safe enough for their implementation. This leads to an overt and covert concentration of efforts on the security forces. Jamaica faces a national dilemma that demands a national resolve since crime, more than tourism, is everybody’s business.

The lesson we have to learn in Antigua and Barbuda is that we must act now to balance the fight against crime. We imported four retired policemen from Canada to head our police force. We must move faster than greased lightening to deliver on meaningful economic empowerment and social redevelopment with the requisite performance indicators in place, as the columnists suggested. Politicians must be forced by stampeding logic from orchestrated community activism, to really divulge some of their power to the community before geo-criminality sets in and it is too late. Communal drug dons and prostitution donnas must not become surrogate politicians.

Contrary to our basic instinct, we must give people not just what they need but some of what they want, dangling this as a carrot whilst the big stick of policing in all its elements works in tandem. It is far cheaper to satisfy the greed of the innocents and stave off the potential criminals, including those who would passively harbour criminality, than to fight rabid geo-criminality successfully.

Together, we can remove the recruitment and nascent support bases to help to stifle the potential and the established, unbridled and socially hereditary greed of the criminals. These rogue elements with their expensive and insatiable, contagious appetites have no compunction whatsoever in looting anywhere, including a church and shooting and killing anyone in their path, including innocent, honest, hardworking men and women, even with child women and children. We must resolve not to accommodate them, through their collaboration with the gluttonous ones in all levels of society, to highjack and despoil the zero tolerance of the community and the hard, old fashioned as well as the modern, scientific work overseen by the deputy and the sheriff, native born or imported.

Friday, June 6, 2008

"Something I've Been Dying To Say", Said The Spirit


Dr. Lester CN Simon

With all the talk and celebration of diversity amongst the peoples of Antigua and Barbuda, a correct and timely warning has been issued by Dorbrene O’Marde for less attention to diversity and more focus on what we have in common. But what do we have in common? Notwithstanding the preeminence of Africa, I am turning my back to Africa as the nidus of our commonality.

The West Indian islands and societies as we know them were made by Caribs, Arawaks, Europeans, Indians, Africans, followed by Chinese, people from the Middle East and others. Many of us, including black West Indians, see ourselves as West Indians and not as Africans. We understand the ancestral fact that as Indians look to India, Chinese look to China, Lebanese to Lebanon, etc., black people must look to Africa. But Africa can never be the meeting place for true West Indian commonality. In this regard, and this regard only, I am turning my back to Africa and my face and focus elsewhere.

To begin an earnest search for a West Indian commonality or West Indian cultural similarities, we have to start at the place where West Indian society was born: The plantation. The problem here is that we tend to run away from re-examining plantation life because the documented, harsh and seemingly hereditary realities of plantation life are too painful to engage our attention in a quest for common, positive rallying points.

The general view of the social structure of plantation life is one in which the whites were
planters, overseers, clerks and book-keepers and blacks were field and house slaves. But something is wrong with this simplistic view. When we look at the African societies that the slaves came from and the occupation and skills they had in Africa, we find pastoralists, agriculturalists, brass workers, potters, merchants and cloth makers who came as slaves to the West Indies.

We know about the harsh life of the field slaves, working in gangs that included pregnant women and youths. We look askance at the house slave, whom we regard as Massa-boy and a spy. Notwithstanding the validity of this regard, we are negating the considerable skills these slaves possessed. Worse, an extension of this blindness leads us to totally disregard the experienced, artisan slaves who worked in factories in charge of mills, boilers, machinery, rum houses and transportation. The fact is that, despite the preeminence and the predominance of people of Africa descent, all of us built these West Indian societies and contributed to our culture by way of language, food, religion, music and other art forms, relationships, work ethics, etc.

Focusing on plantation life compels us to stand up and analyze it in many different ways. Many run away from this. They see it as a needless and pointless exercise and as unnecessary finger-pointing. It is not finger-pointing. It is the fundamental stepping stone to a reconciliation process in which we admit the wrongs of the past and measure our society today by how far we have come away from that low life to occupy and live on higher ground. Instead of this inevitable West Indian reconciliation, we focus all our energies on reparations from the European colonizing countries. Our binocular vision must engage the two focal points, West Indian and metropolitan.

When we use plantation life as ground zero, we are defining our constitutive community by saying that we are against anything that remotely takes us back today to hopelessness, suicide, genocide, inhumane working conditions, slavish or apathetic workers, sabotage, murder and rape and poor health.

The celebrated triumph of West Indian peoples of all colours and races, including those who came after the plantation, must be that we are on a successful, common journey away from an imperfect, plantation origin via a less imperfect union today to the most pragmatic amalgamation tomorrow. This real, common, mountainous journey manifested in our culture, which is the generational sum total of all we do and say, is the central theme of commonality amongst all West Indian and Caribbean societies. It is not Africa.